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Child-directed speech: relation to socioeconomic status, knowledge of child development and child vocabulary skill*


This study sought to determine why American parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds communicate in different ways with their children. Forty-seven parent–child dyads were videotaped engaging in naturalistic interactions in the home for ninety minutes at child age 2 ; 6. Transcripts of these interactions provided measures of child-directed speech. Children's vocabulary comprehension skills were measured using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test at 2 ; 6 and one year later at 3 ; 6. Results indicate that: (1) child-directed speech with toddlers aged 2 ; 6 predicts child vocabulary skill one year later, controlling for earlier toddler vocabulary skill; (2) child-directed speech relates to socioeconomic status as measured by income and education; and (3) the relation between socioeconomic status and child-directed speech is mediated by parental knowledge of child development. Potential mechanisms through which parental knowledge influences communicative behavior are discussed.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Meredith L. Rowe, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, 5848 S. University Ave, Chicago, IL 60637. e-mail:
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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
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